Ex-Knick Carmelo Anthony returns to Garden a player with whole new mindset

Carmelo Anthony is back at MSG and still scoring.

Only two years ago, the former Knick was struggling to find another NBA job following difficult stints in OKC and Houston. He was out of the league for a full year, even resorting to an ESPN interview to clear up any confusion about his willingness to accept a reduced role.

But the 36-year-old will enter Saturday’s game against the Knicks as a contributor for the playoff-hopeful Blazers, coming off consecutive victories where he scored over 20 points in both. He’s climbed to 13th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, surpassing Dominque Wilkins this week.

“I’ve had that moment — that year off — where I just sat back and analyzed everything and was mad and angry and questioned. But not now,” Anthony said. “There’s not no more revenge, there’s not anymore get-back.

“At this point it’s just playing basketball. Doing what I’m doing. I love what I’m doing, enjoying it, having fun. Still being able to play the way I want to play at a high level. So that’s the most important thing for me.”

Anthony has mostly been a reserve for the Blazers this season, although injuries and availability thrice thrust him into the starting lineup — including for Thursday’s victory over the Sixers. He’s averaging 12.6 points over 26 minutes, albeit on a career low shooting percentage. There have been struggles with inefficiency, bouts with poor defense. But the production exceeds the minimum contract.

It’s a different vibe from Anthony’s final years with the Knicks, when his relationship with team president Phil Jackson deteriorated and his no-trade clause was viewed as an impediment to progress.

“It was different,” Anthony said about the dysfunctional partnership with Jackson. “Especially me having to deal with it day-to-day and just accepting it. Never complaining — it was what it was, right? And my only thing just to come in and be a professional and be there for my teammates. And that was it. And just play ball. And I feel like that helped me out a lot, that I was able to still get on the court and block everything out, play basketball. Bring my teammates along with me and still try to figure out a way to find joy in that, and in that eye of the storm.”

Saturday represents Anthony’s third trip back to the Garden since being traded to the Thunder in 2017 for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick. The last time Anthony played at MSG — on New Year’s Day of last year — he dropped 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting but the Blazers lost.

Despite playing just 6 1/4 u00bd seasons with the Knicks, Anthony remains seventh on the franchise’s all-time scoring list above Earl Monroe, Dick Barnett and Bill Bradley. He’s the last Knick to play in an All-Star game. He’s still popular enough among fans to sit 10th in All-Star voting among Western Conference frontcourt players. Until Iman Shumpert signed with the Nets last week, Anthony was the only player still in the league from the Knicks’ 54-win team in 2012-13.

“His career speaks for itself,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s been a great player in the league for a long time. I tried to sign him when I was in Chicago (as head coach of the Bulls). Just the way he can score the ball, he’s very gifted, a great passion for the game. He’s played very well for them.”

For the Knicks, trading Anthony paid dividends because the second-round pick acquired from OKC turned into Mitchell Robinson, the team’s starting center. Kanter was bought out in 2019 and is now teammates with Anthony on the Blazers. McDermott is on the Pacers.

A Knicks-Anthony reunion has been teased but Steve Mills wasn’t interested in 2019 and Anthony quickly re-signed with the Blazers in the 2020 offseason. Anthony’s connection to the franchise now goes beyond his history playing in the uniform: his longtime agent, Leon Rose, is now the team president.

But Anthony is clearly happy with his current situation.

“Portland’s been good. I kind of got acclimated with it. Kind of got my feet set there. Enjoying it,” Anthony said. “It is a lot different than (New York), but it is a place that like I feel comfortable being there, I feel comfortable with guys in the organization, I feel comfortable in the city. So I embraced it. Just the whole opportunity, whole situation. And then the city seems like they embraced me too. So whenever you have that it’s a good match.”

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Sam Son

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